The robocall rules

Liberal MP Frank Valeriote acknowledges his campaign sent out a robocall during the last election that didn’t identify the Liberal party as the source. Reports differ as to whether or not that constitutes a violation of the Elections Act (Mr. Valeriote claims Elections Canada told him it wasn’t). Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher have a timeline of events in Guelph.

Meanwhile, Richard Ciano—a principal at Campaign Research, the firm linked to controversial calls in Irwin Cotler’s riding—frets that the innocent robocall is being unfairly maligned by the current scandal. Setting aside Mr. Ciano’s theory that this is an NDP-Liberal plot to keep the Conservatives from campaigning—the NDP have shown themselves to be rather enthusiastic robocallers—there is something to be said for differentiating between robocalls and what is alleged to have occurred during the last election. However bothersome, the automated call is a perfectly legitimate form of political campaigning, like a candidate knocking on your door or a party running television advertisements. In the case of Guelph and several other ridings, what is alleged is that voters were misled about the location of their polling stations for the purposes of obstructing their ability to vote. And that, if done consciously and purposefully, could rise to the level of election fraud. That phone calls might have been used to carry out fraud is ultimately secondary.

Put another way, Adscam wasn’t about an inherent failing in the advertising industry, it was about corruption. The robocall scandal isn’t about robocalls. It’s about an allegation that the public’s right to vote was interfered with.




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The robocall rules

  1. Cue the screeching false equivalance in 5..4…3…2…1

    • False equivalences or not, Bob Rae should have made absolutely sure that there were no shady or illegal robocalls from his side, before unloading on the Tories. And if one was discovered (as was the case this weekend), then come clean about it from the start. Instead, Rae stayed out of the spotlight all weekend, and sent a nervous-sounding Valeriote in front of the cameras to explain what happened.

      This could have been better handled by the Liberals: Come clean about it early (rather than wait until a voter digs up an old voicemail), apologize (or do some sort of damage control), and return the spotlight back onto the CPC.

      As much as I don’t appreciate the CPC’s amateur response to the robocalls, the Liberals aren’t coming off as any less amateur, judging by the events of this last weekend.

      • No less amateiur maybe, but considerably less illegal! 

        • But perhaps that’s the problem? The point is that the Liberals sent out illegal robocalls in Guelph. The nuance (X is more illegal than Y), if such a nuance exists*, is lost on a large part of the public, who are already cynical with their ”Well, they’re all crooks anyway” attitude (IMO, and in my experience talking with people).

          So when the headlines read “Tories violated elections act with Guelph robocalls,” and one day ”Tories” in the headline is replaced with “Liberals,” it dilutes the significance of the illegal Tory robocalls, in the minds of the general public.

          * We can say that one is less worse than the other, but an illegal act is an illegal act. Both are illegal and are not scaled as “less” or “more” illegal……. it reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine argued that someone either has grace or not, while someone else argued that you can have some or a bit of grace. :)

          • Um. no.

            And we saw it here first, it took some CPC guy questioning if a difference actually exists. Within two comments.

            Disgusting.

          • Who’s the CPC guy? Me?

            Oh, I see. You weren’t trying to engage in an adult discussion. You just want to toss around labels. I get it. Nice.

            For the record, I wasn’t questioning whether a difference exists. There’s obviously a difference between the two. I was questioning the reaction of the Liberals, and whether or not the general public would identify a difference or not.

            But hey, I’m apparently a ”CPC guy” so what do I know?

          • You said “if such a nuance exists”, and put an asterisk with a Seinfeld reference.

            I took that to mean “if such a nuance exists”.

          • If we continue with this logic…. and entertain me for a minute in thinking that my logic is correct :) … we could then say that since the first metric failed (X did something illegal while Y did not), the next metric would be: How is each party reacting to the allegations? Did they try to cover this up? Are they up-front about it? Did they wait until some old voicemail was given to the media? Etc etc…

            And I would say that the Liberals were winning that battle, up until this weekend, where suddenly it was amateur hour for their party.

          • if you are saying that the Cons have handled robogate better than the Liberals have handled the guelph calls (and it’s difficult to read it any other way), I really don’t have any more time for your inanity.  

          • “Both are illegal and are not scaled as “less” or “more” illegal …. ”

            GMFD’s claim about something being ‘less illegal’ made me laugh.  Where you stand depends where you sit, GMFD. Illegal is illegal for non partisans.

          • So slapping a child is the same as murdering a child?

             

          • Are you a ” CPC guy “?

          • Ellen – I am ‘anti government because they are all nitwits’ guy. 

            GMFD – You start out talking about a hierarchy of dirty tricks and then switch to moral code? 

            Political parties breaking electoral laws is wrong, parsing actions to establish who is more wrong is not very useful. 

          • “Political parties breaking electoral laws is wrong, parsing actions to establish who is more wrong is not very useful.”

            Disagree completely – the current situation being a shining example of why establishing who is more wrong is desirable and NECESSARY.

          • “So slapping a child is the same as murdering a child?”

            Seems like easy question but you tell me what correct answer is. 

            1)”Statistics Canada tables show a recorded total of 2,822,293 abortions between 1969 and 2005. Assuming an annual average of 100,000 abortions for 2006 and 2007 (and recognizing that reported numbers since 2000 reflect about 90 percent of abortions) the total number of abortions is more than three million.”

            2)”Section 43 of the Criminal Code is controversial in that it expressly offers parents and teachers a defence when they use reasonable force to discipline a child.  Given an increased recognition of the rights and best interests of children, many have called for an end to any form of physical punishment of children and youth in Canada, which would necessarily include the repeal of s. 43.”

          • Both are illegal and are not scaled as “less” or “more” illegal.
            I’m not so sure about that.  Jaywalking is less illegal than murder, is it not?

            Surely not properly identifying the source of an honest robocall would be less illegal than sending out robocalls designed to deliberately mislead voters in order to interfere with their ability to exercise their right to vote.

          • Both are illegal; however one may have breached the Elections Act and the Criminal Code - while the other would breached the Elections Act. 

          • If it breaches the Canada Elections Act, it breaches the Canada Elections Act. 

            (Criminal fraud is a red herring, since – notwithstanding the fantasies of certain partisans – no one’s getting charged with that except maybe “Pierre Poutine.”)

          • “not properly identifying the source of an honest robocall ”

            Gimme a break LKO.  It’s not an “honest robocall”.  It’s a call that purports to be from some well-meaning concerned citizen, when in fact it’s a call coming from the Liberal Party.  It’s classic astroturfing.  There’s nothing honest about that.

            Having said that, I agree that deliberate voter suppression is more scummy.  But both acts are scummy.

          • Fair enough.

            What I meant was that if the call had been properly identified it would have been “honest” buts as it stands, I take your point. I still think there’s a difference though between disguising the source of a truthful (though partisan) message, and deliberately lying to voters in an attempt to misdirect them and interfere with their ability to exercise their right to vote.

          • Sort of like the difference between shoplifting a candy bar and shooting up a bank and stealing a hundred grand.

          • Mike, the Liberal’s illegal robocalls were not designed to suppress the vote.  They were designed to move voters out of the Conservative camp.  It certainly violated s. 320 of the Elections Act, but it was not an attempt to suppress votes.  The fake polling station robocalls were an attempt to suppress the vote.  Apples and oranges.

      • “before unloading on the Tories”.

        Ah, of course. We should make sure we are completely as pure as the driven snow before coming out against an attempt to suppress voters.

        What a good way to make sure that no such attempts are ever reported, Mike. I’m sure that’d appeal to you.

        The point of Aaron’s post, which you seem to have (deliberately?) missed, is that the legality of the robocalls is irrelevant.  It is the attempt at voter suppression that is the real problem.  And even if doing so was perfectly legal, it’d still be the behavior of a traitorous prick that needs to be deported from our country.

        • He’s giving them political advice, even if it is a bit concern troll-ish.

          Given how Viki-leaks stopped them in their tracks for awhile I imagine the pushback on this will have a big impact on the Liberals.

          The NDP are going to start turning their attacks to both the LPC-CPC.

          To be honest I think Bob Rae would have better served his party if he had stuck to OAS, the economy, changes to immigration, etc etc during the leaders round of QP for the last two weeks.

          He’d have contrasted nicely with the NDP as the grown up talking about ideas on how to improve the country.

          • Best serving the country is doing everything possible to root out any agents of voter suppression and ensure that nobody ever even *considers* doing anything like this again.

            Allowing the voter to express their chosen opinion is the cornerstone of democracy. There is nothing.. nothing.. that is more important. And while I generally don’t like slippery slope arguments, if this incident is not dealt with.. and dealt with harshly.. it is opening the doors to worse instances of behavior.

            If we, either as a people or as individuals, are not absolutely livid that someone would try to do this to our democracy, we’re pathetic wretches who don’t deserve to *have* this democracy — and who will likely find that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          • Well we’re discussing what would be best for the Liberal party politically at the moment.

            But looking at it from your perspective, don’t you think the Liberals have damaged your cause ?

            They’ve created ample space for muddying the waters with their own rule breaking.

            And it’ll be the RCMP and EC that get to the bottom of this. Not question period antics.

          • Muddying the waters only matters if you care about the game.

            I don’t. I care about governance, and fair elections. I really don’t give a crap if Conservatives are hurt by this or Liberals benefit, or the reverse if it turns out that way. I give a crap about making sure the traitorous prick(s) who tried to keep voters from going to their polls be deported.

            Question period antics are important in that they keep this in the forefront of the news, where it should be until it is finally dealt with. Canadians need to be reminded every single day that somebody tried to screw with our right to vote. We can’t and shouldn’t be willing to let that go until it’s over.

          • Consuming all the political oxygen without helping the process along seems to be at odds with good governance.

            The media brought this into the news themselves so I think its wrong to say QP keeps this fresh/relevent.  

            If anything it makes people tune out and undermines your stated goals.

            As fresh evidence comes to light each week perhaps a question would be warranted.

            However, fully saturating QP with wild speculation just makes people tune out.

            Politically this was poorly played by Bob Rae. He could have been the grown up here.

          • That this article exists and you’re commenting on it proves your point false.

          • This article exists because its a story in the news media.

            That is not the same thing as proof that it exists because the Liberals or NDP brought up this issue in QP during the past two weeks.

            Why did this matter come to dominate the political conversation ?

            Was it a question in QP or was it because of the work of reporters McGregor/Maher ?

            QP follows the media. Media does not follow QP.

      • I agree with what your saying but would like to know more about Election Canada supposedly accepting the Mac Donald robo call, when exactly did this happen?
        As Canadian voters we have a right to be given the facts so that we can discuss and 
        make up our own minds.

    • Equivalence is equivalence. It’s not false just because you hate one side a lot more. 

      In any event, it was extremely foolish for the Liberals to go on a moralizing crusade about the purity and integrity of the electoral system, knowing as they do just what they do when they think no one’s watching. Clean hands are, in fact, necessary to complain here. 

      • And may some 60,000+ clean hands slap you for thinking not identifying yourself is anywhere near the same league as deliberately trying to suppress votes.

        • Unfortunately, legislation isn’t drafted to label sections as “this is the part that’s not really that bad” and “this is the part that’s just like murder.” Live by technicalities, die by technicalities.

          (Also, it’s good that you’ve psychically deduced that all 60,000 complainants are genuine and not motivated by partisan spite; that’s very handy. Why, we don’t need Elections Canada to investigate at all – you can just sit at a desk and rubber-stamp each one as valid in its entirety!)

          Please, by all means, hurl righteous indignation at me if it makes you feel better. But I’m still going to be right about this all coming to nothing. I’m going to be even more right the more whiny the Liberals get about it.

          • Wow. You’re right. Obviously taking a joy-ride in a car is on par with rape and murder.

            Oh wait.. it isn’t.. unless you’re a moron.

      • Nice try! 

  2. Reports differ as to whether or not that constitutes a violation of the Elections Act

    Seriously Aaron???

    I’m speechless.

    On Saturday, a spokesman for Elections Canada wouldn’t confirm whether
    the agency had spoken to Valeriote, but pointed to the laws on election
    advertising that say candidates or anyone acting on their behalf has to
    mention in the message that the ad is authorized by the campaign.

    This was in the CBC story; one of the links that your readership has been pointing you to for the last 3 days now.

    • This is also the first I have heard that it didn’t violate EC rules, although I am open to further comments on the topic.

      • “Just an ”administrative dispute” with Elections Canada.”

        “There is some disagreement on the interpretation of this law.”

        “We followed the law as we understood it at the time.”

        Hey, these all worked befiore, why not let someone else use them?

        •  @GMFD:disqus

          Is this the “screeching false equivalency” you were talking about?

          • heh.

          • Well, it’s true though.  The Tories used to do it too.

            LOL

          • “screeching false equivalency”

            Well, I’ll cop to the “screeching”, but I was quoting, so draw your own conclusions.

    • Aaron Wherry is fair to say “reports differ”.

      The CTV story seems to imply that this wasn’t a violation, the Geulph Mercury Report is more agnostic. Neither include the fact that a fake name was used or has an EC response quote.

      However, the CBC write up clearly has more information and has an EC response that seems to suggest pretty clearly that this was indeed a violation. Its regretable that it wasn’t included in the relevent links.

      It does leave a reader with a minimized view of Liberal wrong doing to be sure.

      • Why does anyone need to rely on the reports?

        It’s literally not even a 2 minute exercise to Google the Canada Elections Act and find the part that talks about election advertising, and thus find section 320.

        320. A candidate or registered party, or a person acting on their behalf, who
        causes election advertising to be conducted shall mention in or on the message that its
        transmission was authorized by the official agent of the candidate or by the registered
        agent of the party, as the case may be.

        http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=loi/fel/cea&document=part16&lang=e#sec320

        One could then easily find section 495

        Strict liability offences – summary conviction

        495. (1) Every person is guilty of an offence who

        (a) being a candidate, a registered party or a person acting on behalf of a candidate or registered party, contravenes section 320 (failure to indicate authority for election advertising);

        And then section 500 for the punishment.

        Punishment – strict liability offences

        500. (1) Every person who is guilty of an offence under any of subsections 484(1), 486(1), 489(1), 491(1), 492(1), 495(1), 496(1), 497(1) and 499(1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months, or to both.

        There, that was easy. Where do I show up to pick up my journalism degree?

        •  For an equivalent to Aaron’s journalism degree, contact the Liberal Party of Canada.

      • And by the way, the CTV story has the following paragraph:

        The recording does not state that it came from the Liberal Party or from
        Valeriote’s campaign. The Elections Act requires parties or candidates
        to identify themselves in campaign ads. http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120310/robocall-rallies-planned-120310/

        So, no. It’s not even close to fair for Aaron to simply state that “reports differ” as to whether this is against the Elections Act. It’s a clear violation and Valeriote is obviously lying when he says Elections Canada blessed this. I’ll leave speculation as the motives for this willful blindness as an exercise for the reader.

        • The wilful blindness is caused by Aaron’s blind partisanship.

        • I have to agree, “reports differ” is a truly greasy turn of phrase. The message is clear, the legislation is clear and a single denial – an incredible denial in the real sense of the word – does not constitute a differing report. It’s like saying that “reports differ” on the composition of the moon because you once heard it was made of green cheese. 

    • John g, surely you’re not surprised.  Aaron is a shameless Liberal Party cheerleader, masquerading as a journalist.

  3. The robocall story is one where the accusation is that some people received calls that the poll location had changed. There is still not one person that has come forward and said they were prevented from voting their choice.

    The second story has the Liberal Party in Guelph saying they allowed robocalls to be sent out that did not identify the caller as part of the Liberal campaign. These calls, pretending to be an interested female citizen, were targeted to young women and falsely implied that the Conservative Candidate and the Conservative Party were against pro-choice for women.That has been a common practice for Liberals { Paul Martin did the same thing in the last few desperate days of the 2006 campaign}

    The illegal manipulation of young women could have a significant effect on their voting patterns. This would appear be  ” more illegal”.

      • Well, if you want to start to counting lost votes let`s do this:
        Potentially, how many votes could a Conservative candidate lose in a riding, full of young university students, where a Liberal candidate allowed robocalls to be sent, where the anonymous caller targeted calls to these young people and claimed that the Conservative candidate and the Conservative Party were opposed to pro-choice.

        Potentially, how many votes could a Liberal candidate lose if a disorganized robocalling method that involved changing poll locations was used.

        Both methods are distasteful, however it is easy to see that the Liberals benefited far more than the Conservatives.

        • And again, don’t give a crap.

          Even if it was zero votes lost, it’s the *attempt* to keep voters from the polls that is reprehensible and those who did it who need to be made such an example of that our great grandchildren speak of it in whispers.

          See, dirty tricks to influence who voters decide they’re going to vote for is bad, and I agree it should be punished. Dirty tricks to try to keep voters from expressing who they’ve made their decision for is traitorous, and those responsible should be destroyed.

          • Uh.. who cares?
            Again, it’s not the number of votes.. it’s the attempt.

          • Completely agree. It’s the attempt. Surely, you’ll offer no argument that falsely pulling a fire alarm at a polling station to clear the building is an obvious attempt at voter suppression?

            Has anyone gotten Valeriote on the record to ask him if he knows anything about this attempt at voter suppression? Was hoping McGregor or Maher might, since they’ve clearly gone through Andrew Prescott’s twitter feed from election day.

          • Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

            I hope that isn’t in the manual of activist tricks.

            I’d like an investigation into how many other fire alarms went off across Canada that day.

          • That is also an illegal act (assuming there was no actual fire threat) and should be punished.  We had some nut steal a ballot box and throw it in a river in a NS riding during the last (or second-to-last?) provincial election.  This is indeed another example of voter suppression, and equally reprehensible.

          • Dirty tricks don’t have to be successful to be dirty tricks.

            Your brother-in-law is no less an SOB because he failed in his attempt to seduce that waitress. He was an SOB for trying.

          • So, one can see you have already decided that you would like the person responsible for the vote suppression robocalls to be destroyed or deported or both.

            Could you tell us what you would like done with the person in the Valeriote campaign who was responsible in making the illegal robocalls?

            Keep in mind when you pass judgement and sentencing, that whether the method is to suppress votes, or to falsely influence the potential votes your opponent may receive, they both have no place in our democratic elections.

          • Try reading what I wrote the first time.

        • Anke S. Kessler of SFU tries to answer that very question in this paper “Does misinformation demobilize the electorate? Measuring the impact of alleged “robocalls” in the 2011 Canadian election” Turns out the turnouts in riding’s affected by “robocall” were lower in 2011 than in 2008. http://worthwhile.typepad.com/robocalls.pdf

    •  ”These calls, pretending to be an interested female citizen, were targeted to young women and falsely implied that the Conservative Candidate and the Conservative Party were against pro-choice for women”
      What? 

      The Conservative Candidate admitted in the Guelph paper that week that he was against abortion under any circumstances.

      Why is so easy for Conservatives to lie?

  4. “In-and-out” was also fine with Elections Canada when the Liberals did it.  When the Conservatives started doing it, suddenly it became NOT so fine.

    So why would anyone be surprised that Elections Canada would be fine with unidentified Liberal robocalls, until they found out that other parties might be using a similar to respond to unidentified Liberal robocalls.

    How will the Elections Canada be able to throw the book at a young hotheaded Conservative campaign worker, who only resorted to the unethical robocall after a slightly less unethical robocall by the “official” Liberal campaign in Guelph?

    Maybe there should be a by-election in Guelph.  That certainly would be an ironic outcome.  The NDP should certainly start demanding one.

    • Except the Liberals didn’t do it.
      Go look at the facts, not just what SDA reports

  5. Oh, I get it Wherry, you want to redefine the scandal so that it doesn’t encompass the Liberals, who are the only political party identified as having done something illegal so far (along with the elusive Mr Poutine, who remains unidentified for the moment).

    “Reports differ as to whether or not that constitutes a violation of the Elections Act”

    Geez Wherry, what a cop-out.  It’s obvious that it’s is a violation.  Completely and totally clear. Puhleaze.

    • Well, you see, Aaron can only post what his Liberal Party overlords allow him to post.  So please cut him some slack.

    • QED my first post.

      • You call that a proof?  I didn’t try to make any equivalence whatsoever. 

        I’m just pointing out that it’s ridiculously obvious the Liberal robocall was illegal.  Heck, if people don’t think the two are equivalent, whatever (obviously that’s the point you appear to wish to make even though it has nothing to do with my comment), but to refuse to admit the Liberal call was illegal is completely different and has nothing to do with equivalence.

        Secondly, I’m pointing out that it’s Wherry who is twisting himself in knots right now to avoid this simple admission (maybe to avoid the so-called “equivalence” that you appear to be talking about).

        Thirdly, I pointed out that so far the only individuals found to have done something illegal are Liberals (which is based on my first point). No conservative party individual has yet to be tied to any illegal robo-call. One conservative party worker (Mr Sona) resigned but he admits no wrongdoing and says his resignation has nothing to do with robo-calls. Meanwhile, Mr Poutine has yet to be identified.

        • At what point does it change from being “some kid’ to being “the Liberals”?

          Is it the same point where it changes from ”some kid” to “the Conservatives”?

          I’m honestly curious.

          •  Who is this “some kid”?

          • Sorry, was reading ahead in the talking points. That will be “an overly enthusiastic campaign staffer” or a “high ranking Conservative/Liberal campaign staff member”, depending on which side is writing the press release.

            But you have used the term “Liberal robocall’, while retreating behind ” No conservative party individual has yet to be tied to any illegal robo-call”. Heck, you didn’t even capitalize “Conservative”.

            Once Mr. Sona or Pierre Poutine (“some kid”) steps forward, no doubt you’ll capitalize the C in Conservative Robocall.

            Or do I dream such things?

          • I capitalize “L” when referring to the party (ie proper noun), I don’t capitalize when referring to the adjective or noun, “liberal”. An individual can be liberal, or a Liberal, or both.

            Same with conservative. In my last comment, the absence of a capital on conservative was nothing more than typos (I frequently have typos), but the fact I said “conservative party” made it clear I was referring to the party anyway.

            I have no idea if the Liberal staffer was acting alone or by direction. We do know that the individual was, in fact, a Liberal staffer, possibly volunteer. I have no idea if Conservative staffers were doing similar things. I have no idea if Poutine is a conservative, a Conservative, both, or neither. I think we will know the answer fairly soon, since he apparently has come forward.

            My feelings about the whole thing I have summarized in a separate comment, here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/12/the-robocall-rules-ii/#comment-463671612

  6. This Liberal action was illegal.
     
    The Liberals  hid their identity and attacked the Conservatives.
     
    If listeners had known the Liberals were the source of the call, they may have ignored it and voted Conservative instead.
     
    This action may have cost the Conservatives this riding.
     
    By Election in Guelph NOW.

  7. I can’t believe that there are actually Liberals trying to defend this crime after all the moral tut-tutting we’ve been hearing for the last two weeks. Absolutely shameless. We’ve now got proof, and an admission of guilt that a Liberal was using illegal vote suppression techniques, and these Liberals still won’t stop. If Pierre Poutine turns out to be a Liberal, I’ll be very much looking forward to the backtracking that’ll be happening here.

    • Pierre Poutine turning out to be a Liberal is as likely as Stephen Harper turning out to be a Conservative.

      Uh huh. I said it.

  8. “Let’s be clear” hehe,  there’s an obvious  difference between robo calls that voice an opinion and those that are designed to send you to the wrong polls. Mr. Ciano has his plots all messed up it seems..

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